Most States Unprepared to Protect Children After a Disaster, Report Finds

Almost five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and displaced more than 160,000 children, the vast majority of states are still not fully prepared to protect children in disasters, a new report from Save the Children finds.

The second disaster preparedness report issued through Save the Children's U.S. Programs unit, A National Report Card on Protecting Children During Disasters (5 pages, PDF) found that fewer than one-quarter of all states have enacted four basic safeguards to protect children who are in school or child care during disasters, including requiring all licensed child care centers to have a plan to reunite children with their families and requiring schools to have a clear written evacuation plan. Twelve states, including Mississippi and Alabama, met all standards, a year-over-year increase of five states. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia did not meet all the standards, and seven states met none.

According to Save the Children, more than 5,000 children were reported missing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with the last child found six months later; some 50,000 Louisiana and Mississippi children missed the 2005-06 school year while 15,000 failed to attend school during the 2006-07 school year; and more than a third of Louisiana children experienced clinically diagnosed depression, anxiety, or behavior disorders after the storm.

"Five years after Hurricane Katrina, it is unacceptable for dozens of states to ignore these low-cost and common-sense safeguards for kids," said Mark Shriver, Save the Children U.S. Programs senior vice president. "There are sixty-seven million kids in school or child care on any given day, separated from their families and dependent on others for protection. The most vulnerable Americans in the most vulnerable settings are made even more vulnerable because of government inaction."